Horses, as we all know can have such a positive effect on our lives. They make us laugh, they make us smile, they are there for us when times are difficult and will offer a soft muzzle of affection just when we need it the most. I had the pleasure of interviewing a lovely young woman who is part of my family circle and she very generously shared some aspects of her life and how horses have helped.
Firstly, please introduce yourself...
My name is Charlotte Nield. I am 19 years old from the Highlands of Scotland. I have struggled with my mental health since I became a teenager. I was severely bullied in high school and developed depression, anxiety and PTSD. Along with that I never had much confidence and never had many hobbies, then I met my boyfriend Glen and over the next four years, found a love for your 10 beautiful horses.
I feel I am drawn to horses because you don’t have to know all the ins and outs of them to enjoy them and they are so majestic to look at.
I often found myself watching them whenever I was out on walks with my dogs and they always fascinated me. (There are many horses in our area).
Please tell me what it is about being around horses that is beneficial to your mental health?
I find horses really help my mental health because it gives me a chance to have a routine, such as giving them buckets, giving them hay etc. I find it really hard to function without a routine and I don’t find it easy to get out of bed most mornings. So having animals that need looking after gives me motivation.
How did you discover that horses helped you?
As I lived with you in the first Covid lockdown, the only place I could go for a bit of a change was the horse's field and even though it was a bit of a slow burner, I found myself helping out with small tasks here and there. It made the days go faster and took my mind off the fact we were in lockdown. After that I would be tempted to help feed them here and there. Up until August 2022, I was only really able to see the ponies at the weekend, since I worked during the week and I would visit Glen at weekends.
I stopped working at that job in August and started living with you guys full time and because I was not working I had loads of spare time - I would be so excited to go and feed the ponies!
Even if it was cold and wet I wanted to go and see them.
Eventually I was going down every evening, carrying hay to them and poo picking every so often. I was just absolutely drawn to them. It was bringing joy to me that I had not experienced before.
Do you think that because horses are large free thinking animals which require your whole focus, does this help reduce overthinking?
Definitely. I found when I put my mind on going to help with them that even the hour or so I was down at the field with them, it was an hour that I wasn’t worrying about anything, sad about anything and I could focus on getting the tasks done.
I found whenever I was with them, I was full of energy and motivation. I loved also being able to help you with tasks which gave me a sense of achievement.
Have you had any experience of therapy pets before? Where I work we use therapy dogs...
I am aware of them, but I have not had experience with a trained therapy animal. Although it has been something I have thought about for my anxiety.
Do you think animals are sensitive to our emotions and moods?
Definitely. I myself have two dogs and recently, I was put on antidepressants and moved back home for some support from my family. Belle, my two year old golden retriever has not left my side since I moved home. I am extremely lucky to have two very cuddly affectionate dogs. I think animals are incredibly good at reading the room and understanding our mannerisms and body language.
Do you think exposure to animals would be beneficial to others trying to manage their mental health?
Yes, I think there’s an animal out there everyone can fall in love with. Horses are great because there’s a wide range of things you can do with them, clubs you can attend to learn to ride and meet new people too.
Animals can be a great confidence booster and can give you a great sense of worth and responsibility.
What more do you feel should be done to support young people struggling with their mental wellbeing?
I think school can be one of the main damaging parts of some people's childhood. I think mental health is still kind of a taboo subject and young people should learn more about mental health and all different mental disorders and what kind of things you could do to help anyone that suffers with any of them. I also think mental health should be taken just as seriously as physical health especially in places like schools and workplaces etc.
I totally agree. Mental health and physical health should go hand in hand. Do you have any further thoughts about the positive effects of horses/animals in general around supporting mental health?
I think everyone can benefit from spending time with animals, even people who don’t struggle with their mental wellbeing. Having something to be responsible for and that relies on you to take care of them is a wonderful thing to have.
As a young adult yourself, what challenges do you think the younger generation are facing that could be contributing to driving mental health struggles today?
Definitely things like exams. School kids are under huge pressure to do well in their exams and don’t sleep so they can stay up all night to study.
Society & beauty standards is a huge part of teenagers mental health struggles. Many of us compare ourselves to other people who are seen as “perfect” when it comes to beauty standards.
There's also not enough support for anyone struggling. I think young people's mental health often isn't caught early enough before it gets worse and there are not enough resources to support them and the waiting lists for therapy can be up to 3+ years.
There certainly is a huge gap in support and sadly, so much can deteriorate in that amount of time .
Charlotte, thank you so much for being so honest and open about yourself and your journey so far. The benefit to others around open conversation and sharing can't be underestimated. I'm sure many people will agree about the huge benefits that horses can offer and your story will touch many hearts.